Saturday, June 30, 2007

Gatehouse Media nearly $1.2 billion in debt

It's the darling of the newspaper industry at the moment because of its acquisition strategy, but a prospectus filed Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicates GateHouse Media, owner of 87 daily newspapers, including The Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News, and 268 weeklies, including the Neosho Post and Greenfield Vedette, is nearly $1.2 billion in debt:

We have a significant amount of indebtedness. At March 31, 2007, after giving pro forma effect to the 2007 Financings and the use of a portion of the net proceeds of this offering to repay the Bridge Loan, we would have had total indebtedness of $1.195 billion. After giving pro forma effect to the 2007 Financings and the use of a portion of the net proceeds of this offering to repay the Bridge Facility, our pro forma interest expense for the year ended December 31, 2006 would have been $83.5 million. Loans under the 2007 Credit Facility, as amended by the First Amendment, and the Bridge Facility are subject to a floating interest rate. An aggregate of $1.12 billion of term loans under our 2007 Credit Facility, as amended by the First Amendment, were hedged through the execution of interest rate hedge agreements of $300.0, $550.0 and $270.0 million, at fixed rates of 4.135%, 5.041% and 5.359%, through June 2012, September 2014 and July 2011, respectively.

Our substantial indebtedness could adversely affect our financial health in the following ways:

-a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations must be dedicated to the payment of interest on our outstanding indebtedness, thereby reducing the funds available to us for other purposes, including our ability to pay dividends on our common stock;

-our substantial degree of leverage could make us more vulnerable in the event of a downturn in general economic conditions or other adverse events in our business;

-our ability to obtain additional financing for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions or general corporate purposes may be impaired, limiting our ability to maintain the value of our assets and operations; and

-there would be a material and adverse effect on our business and financial condition if we are unable to service our indebtedness or obtain additional financing, as needed.

The prospectus was filed in conjunction with GateHouse's upcoming $368 million stock offering. The documents also indicated this week's sale of the Huntington, West Virginia Herald Dispatch to Champion Industries for $77 million was also part of an effort to pay down debt.

Risk factors noted in the prospectus also indicated continuing losses have been a problem for GateHouse:

We have a history of losses and may not be able to achieve or maintain profitable operations in the future.

We experienced losses from continuing operations of approximately $13.3 million on a pro forma basis in the first quarter of 2007 and $28.9 million and $14.1 million on a pro forma basis in 2006 and 2005, respectively, and $30.7 million in 2004. Pro forma loss from continuing operations in 2006 included lease abandonment charges of $0.3 million, postretirement benefits expense of $1.6 million and integration and reorganization costs of $6.7 million. Pro forma loss from continuing operations in 2005 included severance, lease abandonment charges and consulting expense paid to our prior management of $1.5 million in the aggregate. In addition, pro forma 2005 loss from continuing operations includes non-cash pension and post retirement benefits expense of $1.1 million, $0.8 million of consulting expense related to financial systems integration and $0.1 million in reorganization expense. Losses from continuing operations in 2004 included management fee expense of $1.5 million paid to our prior owner. Our results of operations in the future will depend on many factors, including our ability to execute our business strategy and realize efficiencies through our clustering strategy.

Ozarks Politics finishes Senate "wingnut" review

The Ozarks Politics finishes its entertaining and informative review of so-called "wingnuts" in the Missouri Senate today with a list of "honorable mentions," including Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City:

Delbert Scott (R-Schmethics) - He has been a leader in the conservative takeover. His biggest claim to fame is his pushing through the photo ID bill that also takes away straight-ticket voting. Scott backed more legislation this past session to further weaken the ethics commission. Scott has served in leadership positions dating back to his days in the House of Representatives, so he knows the GOP playbook chapter and verse.

Globe covers Nodler news conference

Today's Joplin Globe finally has some information about Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, being appointed head of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

It always helps when it's spoon fed to you at a news conference. As far as I have been able to determine, only a brief mention was made about this previously. This is a story that deserves to have more done on it. How will this affect this area? Has it made any big difference to the home regions of the previous state senators who have held the position? What do Nodler's fellow senators think of the appointment, especially considering the senator's penchant for holding grudges and playing power games?

These are all questions that are worthy of examination. Will this appointment bring good things to the three-county area Nodler represents or will it bring good things to a certain well-positioned few?

St. Louis Democrat resigns, wants wife/lobbyist to take his place

Is it any wonder people don't trust politicians?
Today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch features the sordid story of Rep. Fred Kratky, D-St. Louis, who submitted his resignation to Governor Matt Blunt so he could take a position as an executive vice president with the St. Louis Association of Realtors.

Kratky, whose House biography indicates he is a real estate broker, member of the National Association of Realtors, the Missouri and St. Louis Association of Realtors, and has served as president of the Missouri Housing Industry Alliance, already has his House replacement selected. He wants to appoint the woman who has been the lobbyist for his new employer. The woman, who has only been a registered lobbyist since Jan. 3, is Kratky's wife Michele.

Kratky was already representing his new employers during the 2007 House session, according to the list of bills he co-sponsored. As a member of the minority party, Kratky was not likely to get any significant legislation passed for the real estate interests, but he was quick to sign on as a co-sponsor for two Republican bills, both proffered by legislator/real estate agents- neither of which was passed.

HB 310, sponsored by Dennis Wood, R-Kimberling City, who has more than a quarter of a century under his belt as a realtor, would have authorized the Missouri Real Estate Commission to impose civil penalties of up to $2,500 a day, with each day being considered a separate offense, for anyone violating real estate licensing regulations or for people who are selling real estate without a license. I wrote about this bill in the Jan. 11 Turner Report.

HB 324, sponsored by another representative/real estate agent Jason Smith, R-Salem, would have immunized real estate agents who disclosed any information regarding people who are registered sex offenders.

Naturally, Kratky's doors were always open to lobbyists for real estate interests, and I am not just referring to his wife. Missouri Ethics Commission documents indicate Kratky has been the recipient of four meals this year from Samuel Licklider, lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Realtors. Those meals account for $252.14 of the $607.05 Kratky has received in gifts from all lobbyists.

The Post-Dispatch article indicates Kratky should not have any trouble having his lobbyist wife named as his successor:

And Michele Kratky has a built-in advantage in getting her party's nomination to fill the unexpired term. Her husband is one of the Democratic Committee members who would make the call.

Another signing set for Devil's Messenger

Apparently, the folks at Hastings Books, Music and Video in Joplin are gluttons for punishment.
Jeff, the book manager, asked me Thursday if I would come back and do another signing for Devil's Messenger next month and I agreed to do so. Tentative plans are me to be in the store 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 28.
My guess is the store will do even better with a book that will be on sale Saturday, July 21, but if anyone has any money left after buying the final Harry Potter book, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing them plunk down $13.95 for Devil's Messenger.
I will have more information about the signing during the next few weeks.

Daily: Why did it take attorney general so long to file charges against former Neosho police officer?

The Neosho Daily News asked the question I haven't seen mentioned in any venue other than this blog- Why did it take so long for Attorney General Jay Nixon to file charges against former Neosho police officer Justin Pickup in connection with the death of 16-year-old Kassie Schenck on Dec. 20?

In the article, written by Daily Editor John Ford and reporter Wes Franklin, the question is posed to Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland:

Copeland told the Neosho Daily News Thursday he couldn't explain why it took the attorney general's office five months to file charges against Pickup.

"It really upsets me that the family had to wait so long for this," he said. "We had our investigation wrapped up in just a few days. I don't know why the system dragged its feet this long. I can't explain it.

"Certainly, we hope justice will be done. But nothing will bring Kassie back."

Now is the time for someone to ask the attorney general the same question and another one. Why did it take so long and why was Pickup only charged with a misdemeanor?

Natural Disaster to perform tonight at Granby

A brief plug for our band Natural Disaster.
We are scheduled to perform 8:30 to 10 p.m. today at the annual Old Mining Town Days at Dick Smith Park in Granby. This will be our third year to perform at the celebration.
Hope to see some of you there.

Column argues in favor of undercover journalism

When Harper's editor Ken Silverstein recently went undercover to do an expose on the lobbying industry in Washington, he uncovered greed and corruption that should surprise no one that reads this blog on a regular basis.

Saying he was representing the repressive government of Turkmenistan, Silverstein approached the powerful lobbying firm of Cassidy and Associates (regular heavy contributors to our own Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt) to see how the firm would promote the interests of "his country."

Silverstein explained his approach in a column in today's Los Angeles Times:

I didn't mention that Turkmenistan is run by an ugly, neo-Stalinist regime. They surely knew that, and besides, they didn't care. As I explained in this month's issue of Harper's Magazine, the lobbyists I met at Cassidy & Associates and APCO were more than eager to help out. In exchange for fees of up to $1.5 million a year, they offered to send congressional delegations to Turkmenistan and write and plant opinion pieces in newspapers under the names of academics and think-tank experts they would recruit. They even offered to set up supposedly "independent" media events in Washington that would promote Turkmenistan (the agenda and speakers would actually be determined by the lobbyists).

All this, Cassidy and APCO promised, could be done quietly and unobtrusively, because the law that regulates foreign lobbyists is so flimsy that the firms would be required to reveal little information in their public disclosure forms.

Unbelievably, the outcry following Silverstein's expose was not about the sell-their-soul-for-a-buck lobbyists, but about Silverstein's tactics. The column is well worth a read, and he makes a point at the end of it that should make all Washington journalists do a little soul searching:

I'm willing to debate the merits of my piece, but the carping from the Washington press corps is hard to stomach. This is the group that attended the White House correspondents dinner and clapped for a rapping Karl Rove. As a class, they honor politeness over honesty and believe that being "balanced" means giving the same weight to a lie as you give to the truth.

Silverstein is absolutely right. Too many times, what passes as political reporting is simply taking one side's accusation, calling the other side to get a response, then printing both sides without ever making an effort to ascertain the truth.

We need more Ken Silversteins and fewer Beltway pundits.

Webb City Superintendent clears up misunderstandings on school start law

In a page-one article in this week's Webb City Sentinel, Webb City R-7 Superintendent Ron Lankford explains the effect the new school start law will have on his school district, noting that his office had had calls from parents ever since the bill was signed into law by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

School in Webb City will start the same day it starts in Joplin, Aug. 15, because the new law does not take effect until Aug. 28. Area schools, including Webb City, will likely go through the extra steps the law requires, including calling a special meeting, then voting to start at about the same time they start each year.

"Basically, when we get to August," Lankford says, "what I hear from parents is they are ready for school to start.
"I can assure you kids are more ready to come back in August than stay until the first of June."

Then Lankford made the same observation that has been expressed in similar words in this blog since Sen. Jack Goodman first filed the legislation:

Lankford says her understands there are some areas of the state, Branson in particular, where teachers and students have jobs connected to tourism, when starting school closer to Labor Day would be the right thing to do.
But "why should Craig, Mo. (in the northeast corner, and others such as Webb City) set its calendar based on Branson, Mo?"

Friday, June 29, 2007

Globe: Pickup still at large

The Joplin Globe has posted an update on former Neosho police officer Justin Pickup, who faces a misdemeanor charge for his alleged role in the death of Kassie Schenck, 16, of Neosho on Dec. 21, 2006:

Pickup left the state soon after he was linked to Schenck’s death, authorities said.

Capt. Richard Leavens, with the Sheriff’s Department, said, “We tried to contact his attorney today (Friday) to see if he could convince Pickup to turn himself in.” But, the attorney was not available.

“We plan to work through his attorney if we can,’’ he said. “If we can’t, we have some good ideas about where we can find him (Pickup).’’

Pickup’s attorney is C. Ross Rhoades, of Neosho. It is believed that Pickup is in Oklahoma, Leavens said.

The Globe story also notes that Miss Schenck's family is not happy about the attorney general's decision to file only a misdemeanor charge since the attorney general has evidence that Pickup bought vodka and gave it to Miss Schenck shortly before she was killed in a one-car accident.

The Globe provided this link to probable cause documents filed in Newton County Circuit Court.

Nodler says he plans to work hard on budget committee

During a news conference today at the Joplin Airport, Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, was officially tabbed as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, according to a post on KY3 Political Blog:

The powerful chairmanship will give the Joplin Republican significant influence on the state's annual $20 billion dollar budget.

Nodler announced the Senate Appropriations Committee will formally begin work with a series of public hearings in December, earlier than in the past.

“The budget process is demanding and time consuming, but it is also the most important and only constitutional requirement the General Assembly must perform each year,” said Nodler at a press event today in Joplin.

In another related development, no one really cares who called the press conference. (See comments on the earlier Nodler story announcing the press conference if you don't understand the reference.)

Lamar website chronicling final days at O'Sullivan Industries

The workforce at the O'Sullivan Industries plant in Lamar is down to a few dozen now, according to the Lamar Chat message board on (A link to the site is featured on the right-hand side of this page.)

Having a site like Lamar Chat has been one way of helping people deal with a horrible situation. In just a few short years, a plant that at one time employed more than 1,200 now appears to be down to two digits.

Among the posts on the message board:

"My hubby is still there, he is the last computer programmer they have now."

And this one, posted just a little over three hours ago:

"All of maintenance but 5 people just got their walking papers."

From the sounds of the posts on the message board, Lamar residents are not just rolling over and crying about the loss, but plan to fight to keep things going. Oldtimers remember that when the LawnBoy plant closed in the mid-60s, Tom O'Sullivan came to town and built something even better. The Tom O'Sullivans of this world are few and far between, as the Newell Rubbermaid Mafia that succeeded the O'Sullivan clan at the company's helm found out, but here's hoping that history repeats itself and another major employer will find its way to Lamar.

Motion to dismiss filed in former Neosho police officer's case

It didn't take long for Neosho attorney Charles Rhoades to file a motion to dismiss in the child endangerment case against his client, former Neosho police officer Justin Pickup.

Newton County Circuit Court records indicate Rhoades filed the motion today, as well as a motion for the bill of particulars, the specific case against his client.

A warrant was issued for Pickup's arrest and bail was set $5,000 after the Missouri attorney general's office filed the misdemeanor charge against Pickup, who allegedly supplied vodka to Kassie Schenck, 16, Neosho, on Dec. 20, just a short time before she was killed in a one-car accident.

Nodler focus of latest "wingnut" post

The Ozarks Politics blog ended its week of looking at what it terms "wingnuts" in the Missouri State Senate by focusing on Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin. The post is similar to my old favorite WHB 40 Star Survey in that it plays all of our senator's greatest hits back to back, including:

Our favorite Nodler story was last summer's movie melee. Seems the Senator doesn't have much patience for the disabled. Nodler went into a tizzy over the noise a group of developmentally disabled folks were making. He even got into an altercation with the groups caregiver. The best part of the story is that he apparently went to the trouble of getting a refund for a movie he saw for free!

Maybe Nodler should wait for movies to come out on pay-per-view. We're sure he can get a deal on that.

KY3 Blog offers breakdown of Democratic debate

As usual, Dave Catanese of KY3 Political Blog offers an excellent summary of points made by the Democratic presidential contenders during Thursday night's debate.
It certainly makes me nostalgic for the days when presidential campaigns did not start until the year the elections were taking place.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Attorney general takes four and a half months to file charges against former Neosho police officer

The news that Kassie Schenck's family had waited more than six months for finally came today.

Miss Schenck, 16, was thrown through the windshield of her car on Pineville Road in Neosho on Dec. 21. She died 18 hours later. The probable-cause affidavit filed Thursday in Newton County Circuit Court indicates her blood alcohol content was 0.12.
The Neosho police officer (at the time) who bought Kassie Schenck the vodka that eventually led to the auto accident that claimed her life was charged with a crime Thursday.

Miss Schenck's family couldn't have been thrilled that all a human life was worth was a misdemeanor. The news release issued by the Missouri Attorney General's office said Justin Pickup, 23, was charged with "endangering the welfare of a child, second degree." If Pickup is convicted, at the most he will have to spend a year in jail and pay a $1,000 fine.

The family also could not have been happy with the amount of time it took for charges to be filed against Pickup. According to an article posted a few hours ago on the Joplin Globe website, the Newton County Sheriff's Department turned its investigative file over to the attorney general's office in early February, complete with the following information, included in an affidavit from the investigating officer, Deputy Richard Geller:

-Pickup, an adult police officer, "had a relationship with Miss Schenck."

-An empty pint bottle of Smirnoff vodka was found in Miss Schenck’s vehicle. The bottle had a sticker with the price of $8.69 on it.

-Though Pickup denied buying the vodka, a videotape taken from a Goodman convenience store showed him buying it.

-Pickup told the mother of one of Miss Schenck's friends that Miss Schenck he had been in an accident and he "was going to lose his job."

The Globe story also noted that Pickup left the area shortly after his name was linked to Miss Schenck's death.

With all of this information at the fingertips of the attorney's general office, why in the world did it take more than four and a half months to bring charges against Justin Pickup?

I have no problem with a thorough investigation, but four and a half months for a misdemeanor?

The information included in the Newton County Sheriff's Department's report indicates that a police officer, sworn to uphold the law was pursuing a relationship with an underage girl, plying her with alcohol, then leaving the area to avoid prosecution.

Surely there must be some felony charge that could be used for this man. Nothing is going to bring Kassie Schenck back, but her death has to be worth more than a misdemeanor.

GateHouse Media sells West Virginia newspaper

In direct contrast to its usual mode of operation, GateHouse Media announced today it would sell a West Virginia newspaper. The company, which has been buying newspapers right and left in recent months, filed the following news release with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

Fairport, New York. June 28, 2007—GateHouse Media, Inc. (NYSE: GHS) announced today that it has signed a definitive asset purchase agreement to sell The Herald-Dispatch and related publications which are located in Huntington, West Virginia, to Champion Industries, Inc. ("Champion") for a purchase price of $77 million. The transaction is expected to close before the end of August and is subject to regulatory approval and customary closing conditions.

Mike Reed, Chief Executive Officer of GateHouse Media, commented, "While we are constantly evaluating investment opportunities in the local media sector and continue to have a very strong pipeline of future opportunities, we did not see the Herald Dispatch as a good strategic or geographic fit and felt we could redeploy the capital more effectively elsewhere. It was always our intention when we recently acquired several properties from Gannett to dispose of the Huntington Herald Dispatch, and I am delighted to announce the sale of this venerable publication to Champion Industries, a company with a strong presence and history in the local market."

GateHouse owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Neosho Post, Greenfield Vedette, and the Big Nickel in this area.

Government will not oppose Ellefsens' request for extra time

In documents filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the government indicated it will not oppose the request by Brian and Mark Ellefsen of Carthage to have extra time to prepare for their trial on fraud charges.

The lawyers for Brian Ellefsen, a doctor, and Mark Ellefsen, a CPA, had requested the extra time, indicating that this is a complex case. The government said the case was only moderately complex and added this explanation:

While the government does not oppose the defendants’ motions, undersigned counsel notes that this case is only moderately complex. The government mailed discovery to
the defense on June 28, 2007, consisting of four (4) compact disks containing a total of 27,590 document pages – all evidence on this case currently in the government’s possession. Of those 27,590 document pages, 8,954 originally were provided to the government by Defendant Brian Ellefsen, in response to grand jury subpoenas. Therefore, the defendants will have 18,636 document pages of "new" evidence to review. The document pages on the disks provided to the defense are individually bates-numbered, and organized according to the sources of the
documents. The bates numbers each contain an alphabetical prefix, corresponding to the source,and the bates numbering key was also provided to the defense. This should assist the defense in accomplishing review of the evidence well in advance of the proposed scheduling order date.

The Ellefsens were indicted in April for tax fraud. Their arrests were part of an ongoing federal investigation of the Aegis Company of Palos Hills, Ill. Aegis officials were indicted in April 2004 and charged with defrauding the U. S. Government of more than $68 million.

In a May 30 court filing, the Ellefsens' attorney noted the indictment "is linked to a nationwide Internal Revenue Service/U. S. Department of Justice project aimed both civilly and criminally at the Aegis Business Trust System, the Aegis Company, its promoters, attorneys, accountants and purchasers/investors."

The scope of the investigation was noted in the Department of Justice news release from April 2004:

Six of the defendants allegedly participated in a nearly decade-long conspiracy to market and sell sham domestic and foreign trusts through The Aegis Company, based in suburban Palos Hills, to some 650 wealthy taxpayer clients throughout the United States to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in income, resulting in a tax loss to the United States of at least $68 million, making the case one of the largest of its kind. Following a lengthy undercover investigation by IRS agents, code-named "Operation Trust Me" and the seizure of roughly 1.5 million documents, computer files and related materials, a federal grand jury in Chicago today returned a 51-count indictment against six of the defendants.

The federal indictment said Brian Ellefsen used diverted funds to "pay for cash withdrawals and charges made on the offshore credit card, payments for (his) personal expenses, payments on loans owned by (him), expenditures for the construction of (his) family home, and expenditures for the purchase of another residence located on Table Rock Lake, Missouri."

The Ellefsens misled the accounting firm preparing their income tax returns, according to the indictments, causing false income tax returns to be filed.

Nodler to make "official" announcement of committee appointment

Why this should be a story two weeks after the fact I have no idea, but Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, has called a news conference for Friday at the Joplin Regional Airport, according to KSPR's website.

I suppose this will give our local television stations the opportunity to cover the story for the first time and give the Joplin Globe a chance to get it right.

The story was given its proper due to several smaller Joplin-area newspapers, including The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, and Newton County News, but it was virtually ignored by the Joplin media, despite its possible important to this area.

Misdemeanor charge filed against former Neosho police officer

The Missouri Attorney General's office filed misdemeanor charges of endangering a child in the second degree against a former Neosho police officer who allegedly provided alcohol to a teenager who died in an auto accident on Dec. 21, 2006.

According to the news release from the attorney general:

Neosho, Mo. — Former Neosho police officer Justin Keith Pickup was charged today with endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree by supplying alcohol to a 16-year-old girl. The girl, Kassie Schenck, died of injuries from a motor vehicle crash that occurred on the day after Pickup (DOB – 8/24/83) allegedly purchased a pint bottle of vodka and gave it to her. According to the probable cause affidavit filed with the charge in Newton County Circuit Court, Schenck’s blood alcohol content level was .12 after the crash in the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 2006.

The charge was filed by the office of Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, which was appointed by the court to determine if charges should be filed and to prosecute any ensuing charges. The Prosecuting Attorney of Newton County recused himself from the matter because of a conflict of interest.

Endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The charge against Pickup is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until or unless proven guilty in a court of law.

Ozarks Politics turns spotlight on Goodman

In its week-long series on what it calls "wingnuts" in the Missouri Senate, Ozarks Politics turned its focus today on Sen. Jack Goodman:

Goodman's election to the state senate is an interesting story itself. Goodman was selected to be the GOP candidate after the passing of Larry Gene Taylor (the son of former congressman Gene Taylor), but not after some controversy as some in the district favored Taylor's widow to take the seat. The 29th Senatorial is one of the safest GOP seats in the state, yet Goodman was perceived as such a weak candidate that the party spent an estimated $300k to insure a win.

The blog also notes Goodman's Senate sponsorship of the Castle Doctrine bill:

Goodman returned to more typical fare this past session - highlighted by his sponsorship of the castle doctrine bill. This legislation, as best as we can tell, is a feel good measure to make NRA folks happy but doesn't really do much, because it bans lawsuits that no one really thinks exist.

Nexstar adds another duopoly

Nexstar Broadcasting's stock in trade, so to speak, has been its use of duopolies- having two television stations in each market. This has been done in many communities by having Mission Broadcasting act as a front, buying a station then turning over the entire operation to Nexstar.

That process is the one being used in the Joplin market with Nexstar station KSNF and Missions' KODE, and in Springfield, with Nexstar's KSFX and Mission's KOLR.

Today, Nexstar announced another joint operation with Mission, this one in the Monroe, La./El Dorado, Ark. market:

Nexstar Broadcasting Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: NXST) announced today that, contingent upon the completion of the acquisition of KTVE-TV by Mission Broadcasting, Inc., which is expected to occur in the fourth quarter of 2007, it will enter into a local service agreement (“LSA”) with Mission for KTVE-TV, the NBC affiliate serving the Monroe, Louisiana/El Dorado, Arkansas market.

Mission Broadcasting recently entered into a definitive agreement, subject to FCC approval, to acquire the assets of KTVE-TV for approximately $7.7 million from Piedmont Television, which Mission intends to fund with borrowing from its existing $15 million revolving credit facility.

Nexstar presently owns KARD-TV, the FOX affiliate in the Monroe, Louisiana/El Dorado, Arkansas market, which is operated under a local service agreement with KTVE-TV. Upon commencement of the LSA, Nexstar will own, operate, program or provide services to more than one station in 18 of the 29 markets where it operates. In addition, the new local service agreement represents the 50th television station that Nexstar owns, operates, programs or provides sales and other services to. According to Nielsen Media 2006-2007 Local Market Estimates, Monroe, Louisiana/El Dorado, Arkansas is the 135th largest television market in the country. Through various local service agreements with Mission, Nexstar currently provides sales, programming and/or other services to 15 television stations that are owned and operated by Mission.

McClatchy report: Political dynasties, including Blunts and Carnahans, all oer the place

McClatchy Newspapers' report on political dynasties in the United States, written by Kansas City Star political reporter Steve Kraske, starts with a sobering note:

Get this: If Hillary Clinton wins the White House, is re-elected in 2012 and finishes her term, the country will have experienced 28 consecutive years of a Bush or Clinton as president.

Twenty-eight years. Nearly 12 percent of American history to that point. And that doesn’t even count George H.W. Bush’s eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

Kraske points out:

"Somebody like Robin Carnahan has an advantage because her father was well-known statewide," said Missouri State University political scientist George Connor. It didn’t hurt her brother, either. He's a congressman from St. Louis.

Gov. Matt Blunt’s fast rise, too, is pegged in part on the reputation of his father, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt.

As Kraske points out, we have always had political dynasties in the U. S., dating back to the Adams, Tafts, Roosevelts, etc., but it has become an increasing problem in these days when the big money goes to the big names. As long as special interests' roles in elections are magnified by the need for money to finance successful campaigns (and there is no sign that problem is going to go away anytime soon), we will keep returning to those familiar names over and over.

Times editorial: Senate must hold fast against last ditch effort by lobbyists to derail reform

In an editorial in today's edition, the New York Times encourages the Senate to stick to its guns with lobbying reforms:

It's not clear what games might be under way. Are K Street lobbyists staging a last-ditch fight against finally disclosing their fund-raising clout with lawmakers? Are Republicans trying to foil Democrats from delivering on their campaign promises last year for credible reform?

Whatever is going on, the public had better be wary of backsliding and make sure that Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, doesn't cave in to any weakening of the strong measures he already steered to approval. Gamesmanship should be firmly met by a leadership initiative that forces a fresh vote on the record, if necessary, to smoke out any members trying to privately torpedo in conference what they publicly supported last January.

At the heart of true reform is the requirement that lobbyists reveal their influence as "bundlers" who mass separate donations from clients into single eye-popping packages. No less vital is the mandate that lobbyists disclose their other roles at the Capitol groaning board — hosting fund-raising events for politicians, funneling donations to lawmakers' charities and their inaugural events and ginning up parties to "honor" powerful incumbents. None of this influence-peddling would end, but the public would at least gain a clearer idea of the ways the Capitol operates. Any retreat from these basic reforms can only deepen voters' cynicism.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blunt works for congressional pay raise

Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt did his part to make sure he and his fellow representatives will receive cost-of-living increases to boost their salaries to $170,000 annually:

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., worked the floor during the vote to make sure there was relative balance between the warring parties in delivering votes. Working through Blunt, Hoyer forced more than a dozen Republicans to switch their votes in support of accepting the raise, including Mike Pence and Daniel Burton of Indiana and Fred Upton, Dave Camp and Vernon Ehlers of Michigan.

Finally, moments after signaling with three fingers a demand for a few more GOP votes, Hoyer drew his finger across his throat as a signal for Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., to gavel the tally to a close.

State takes over Lamar Grain and Feed, seeks repayment of debts

According to a news release issued today by the Attorney General's office, the state has taken over Lamar Grain and Feed:

Attorney General Jay Nixon today took legal action for the Missouri Department of Agriculture to be appointed trustee and receiver of Lamar Grain and Feed, after an investigation revealed that the defunct business had grain payables in excess of $100,000 when it closed on May 31. The business was located at 1203 Perry Street in Lamar.

Nixon obtained an order from the Barton County Circuit Court for the state to be appointed trustee and receiver for the sole purpose of liquidating grain-related assets, determining the validity of grain-related claims, and disbursing, after administrative hearing, grain-related assets and proceeds for the benefit of claimants with valid claims within the parameters of the Missouri Grain Dealer Law.

State law allows the Attorney General to seek a court order for the Department of Agriculture to be appointed as receiver to operate or liquidate grain facilities upon evidence that the grain dealer is insolvent or unable to satisfy to claims of all sellers. Nixon’s petition cites significant evidence that Lamar Grain still has grain payables of more than $100,000, which the defendants, including former president Ron K. Ellis and vice president Jerod S. Ellis, have failed to pay.

Today’s court order authorizes the department to take over both business and personal accounts of the defendants to accurately determine the extent of all grain-related obligations incurred by Lamar Grain, the status of those obligations and Lamar Grain’s resources to pay off the outstanding obligations. The department is also authorized to redeliver or sell dealer-owned grain and hold the proceeds in escrow. The department will also determine the validity of all claims and disburse all grain-related assets and proceeds that are to be placed in the escrow account.

Black trial to go to jury today

Jurors are expected to get the Conrad Black case today after several days of closing arguments.
Black, the former CEO of Hollinger International, is charged with looting the company of millions of dollars to fund his lavish lifestyle. His attorneys contend Black was simply benefiting from legal agreements:

In more than 25 hours of closing arguments, defense lawyers said the opposite was true, that all money given to Mr. Black, 62, and the others resulted from legitimate agreements. The payments were properly disclosed to company directors and shareholders, they said, and if the payments were questionable, they stemmed from bad advice by outside lawyers and were missed by auditors. The other defendants are a former vice president, Peter Y. Atkinson, and a former chief financial officer, John A. Boultbee. F. David Radler, the former president, pleaded guilty and testified against Mr. Black, his former partner.

Hollinger, now renamed the Sun-Times Media Group, once held The Times of London, The Jerusalem Post, The Chicago Sun-Times and scores of smaller community papers.

Among those community papers, for a time during the 1990s, were The Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Former supporters criticizing No Child Left Behind

Former Bush Administration officials are among those criticizing the federal No Child Left Behind law, lessening the chances the law will be renewed, according to an article in today's Washington Post:

Bush might have expected that Eugene W. Hickok, a relative of the legendary frontier lawman Wild Bill Hickok and the original sheriff of No Child Left Behind, would support his drive for renewal. As the No. 2 Education Department official in Bush's first term, Hickok wrangled states and schools into compliance with the law so forcefully that foes called him "Wild Gene."

But Hickok, who is now urging Congress to revamp the initiative, said in a recent interview that he always harbored serious doubts about the federal government's expanding reach into the classroom.

"I had these second thoughts in the back of my mind the whole time," said Hickok, a former deputy education secretary. "I believe it was a necessary step at the time, but now that it has been in place for a while, it's important to step back and see if there are other ways to solve the problem."

Some of the criticism comes because of increasing federal interference in local education, but some also comes because the law does not call for educational vouchers. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says vouchers are part of the plan.

News-Leader: Memorial Middle School shooter should be tried as an adult

Thomas Gregory White should be tried as an adult.
That's the verdict of the Springfield News-Leader Editorial Board, which supported Judge William Carl Crawford's decision to place White, 13 at the time, in adult court to face charges for the Memorial Middle School shooting:

We understand those who have sympathy for a 14-year-old who by the grace of God and a jammed weapon did no more damage than scaring the hell out of a couple of school administrators and firing a bullet into the ceiling. But those who call for White to be prosecuted purely as a juvenile must have been sleeping through the past decade to the point where they have no comprehension how serious school shootings are. Further, they don't understand Missouri's dual jurisdiction sentencing guidelines, which allow for the possibility that a juvenile facing serious time for serious crimes might become rehabilitated before he turns 18.

If he's found guilty and sentenced, White will spend the first couple of years of his sentence in the control of juvenile authorities who will offer the sorts of educational and psychological programs appropriate for a young person. As it relates to White, whether other people are to blame for his violent tendency is no longer the point. What matters now is keeping the community at large safe.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Where is the media on the Robin Deardorff story?

Apparently, the idea that a woman with a considerable criminal record could be working for the Missouri Department of Social Services is not as important to state media as a chance to cover the continuing juvenile sniping between the governor and the attorney general.

As I noted in the June 14 Turner Report, Robin Deardorff, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on fraud and identity theft charges worked at the Department of Social Services right up until June 11, despite a long record of brushes with the law. Questions about Ms. Deardorff's employment were asked by the media, but this explanation offered to the Associated Press was apparently allowed to stand without further examination:

A spokeswoman for the Social Services Department would not say whether Robin Deardorff had left voluntarily. Spokeswoman Sara Anderson said background checks are performed on all employees, but those who don't have direct contact with the public are not screened until after they have been hired.

Anderson said it generally takes a month for background checks for employees who don't have direct contact and eight to 12 weeks for employees who do.

It only took me five minutes to find enough information on to indicate Mrs. Deardorff should never have been hired for the position, the kind of check that state bureaucrats apparently do not bother to make:

A simple check of shows eight listings for Mrs. Deardorff, including seven criminal charges. The oldest charge, dating back to 1993, was for misdemeanor stealing, for which she received five days in jail and was placed on probation.

Two years later, Mrs. Deardorff received 30 days in jail for endangering the welfare of a child, not exactly the type of activity that seems in keeping with the Family Support Division of the Department of Social Services.

The remainder of the criminal charges involve annual charges of driving while revoked from 2003 through 2006, with the last three times involving the use of electronic shackles in lieu of jail time.

In 2005, she also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of passing a bad check.

It would not have taken long for a background check to uncover the news that Mrs. Deardorff's husband (and co-defendant) Clayton Deardorff, is an unwilling guest in a Missouri state penitentiary.

I conducted a check on Mrs. Deardorff's maiden name, Robin Sidney, and found more information that should have prevented her from ever being the recipient of taxpayer money:

On July 13, 1995, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor stealing charges and was placed on supervised probation for two years. This was the second time she had pleaded guilty to a stealing charge.

Instead of taking potshots at each other perhaps, Matt Blunt and Jay Nixon need to investigate how Robin Deardorff ever came to work for the state and find out just what procedures our state departments and agencies use when investigating potential employees.

No one should ever work in a place of trust without having to undergo at least a cursory background check.

Where has the media been on this case. Are our reporters simply content to base its government coverage on news releases?

Graves' law firm jumps into Roe lawsuit, files suit against St. Charles publication

It appears top Republican operative and blogger Jeff Roe plans to play hardball in his defense against the libel suit filed against him March 29 by St. Charles County Commissioner Joe Brazil.

According to St. Charles County Circuit Court records on, Roe, formerly the chief of staff to Sixth District Congressman Sam Graves, is represented by David Marcus (pictured) of the law firm Graves, Bartle and Marcus. The partners in that firm are Sam Graves' brother, former U. S. Attorney Todd Graves, State Senator Matt Bartle, and Marcus, who has been a successful litigator for some of the top firms in Kansas City.

Roe's answer to Brazil's charges, filed Thursday, includes a countersuit against First Capital Publications and Photography, LLC, St. Charles, and First Capital News, LLC.

I haven't seen the lawsuit documents, but a check of First Capitol News' archives shows a March 17 post, titled "Professional Character Assassins Brought in for Election," published four days before the Brazile lawsuit was filed. The post, written by Tony Brockmeyer, started with a subhead that read, "Out-of-Town Goon Squad Coming to St. Charles," then began:

Reminiscent of something out of the Sopranos, the City of St. Charles has been infiltrated by hired hit men. The difference is these hit men won’t be using automatic weapons and trying to kill their marks. They are hired to destroy lives and the credibility of those who dare challenge the established power in St. Charles.

Brockmeyer alleged that millionaire developers in St. Charles brought Roe, who blogs for The Source, and John Hancock, author of the Missouri Pulse blog, in to keep the status quo from changing in the city, including the removal of city council members "who stood up against the special interests in favor of the residents of St. Charles."

Brockmeyer quoted material from Kansas City Star profiles of Roe concerning Roe's campaign tactics. Close to the end of the post, Brockmeyer wrote about Joe Brazil's unsuccessful campaign for state senate:

St. Charles is not new territory for Roe. He was brought in by big money interests in the August 2006 primary when St. Charles Councilman Joe Brazil faced off against Scott Rupp in the Republican primary for a state senate seat.

Brazil told the First Capitol News he believed Roe to be the worst type of political operative. "He told lies, misrepresented facts and brought up an incident that happened when I was 18 years old and then lied about it," Brazil said.

The post ended with these paragraphs:

The First Capitol News contacted Roe and he denied any involvement with St. Charles politics. An individual like Roe usually does not want anyone to know he is involved until the campaign is over.

Brazile's lawsuit against Roe was first revealed in the O'Fallon Watchdog and The Turner Report.

On his blog, The Source, Roe wrote two items about Brazile in the week before the Republican primary. The first, on Aug. 1, said:

Then Senator Jon Dolan was phoned many times by Brazil's constituents as they complained about a “drunk and rowdy crowd” at the New Melle Festival. Imagine the shock when Dolan came to find out that Brazil was the ringleader of the drunken ruffians. But Party Boy Brazil's escapades don’t stop there. During one of his golf events, Brazil allowed women in attendance to discard their clothing and go topless.

Is this what Missouri needs in one of its Senators? The Source thinks not. Perhaps Joe Brazil should examine his own past before he attempts to disguise himself as a Republican. Brazil has no business even thinking about running a campaign against incumbent Scott Rupp. Rupp is what Missouri needs in the State Senate. He is a responsible, strong, family man who Brazil could learn a lot from.

Roe's Aug. 4 post led directly to the lawsuit:

According to, in 1982, Brazil was attempting to pull off a senior class prank at McCluer North High School in Florissant, Missouri. Brazil plan was to deposit thousands of pounds of sand into the school's faculty parking lot. Brazil even owned a dump truck that could be used to aid in the prank.

After quite a few beers, Brazil and his buddies loaded up the dump truck with sand and drove to the school. One of Brazil's friends, Norval Pierce sat on top of the bed of the truck while Brazil dumped the sand. Brazil drove slowly while dumping attempting to adequately spread the sand in the parking lot. As Brazil was driving the truck jumped forward, throwing Pierce through the frame of the truck. Not realizing what had happened, Brazil continued to drive while drunk and dumping sand. Brazil proceeded to crush Pierce under the truck.

So now we have another instance of Brazil’s irresponsibility and not owning up to his mistakes. What else do we need to know Joe?

Families of drunk driver's victims should not have to pay for his defense

(Note: The following post originally ran as my Turner Report column in last week's Newton County News.)

There is nothing our judicial system can do to make things any easier for those have who lost loved ones to drunk drivers.
The one thing they can, and should, expect, is that once those drunk drivers are convicted that they should serve their sentences... and not have appeals financed by their own tax money.

Newton County residents will remember the tragedy that occurred July 30,. 2004. when Edward Meerwald, 52, Noel, ran off Highway 86 going at a high rate of speed and plowed into Jim Dodson, 69, Neosho, and Dodson's granddaughter Jessica Mann, 8, Joplin, killing both.

The deaths of Jim Dodson and Jessica Mann were the driving force behind a bill sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler during the 2005 legislative session that toughened the penalties for drunk drivers whose actions result in death. Unfortunately, the law could not be made retroactive.

Instead of charging Meerwald with second degree murder, the Newton County prosecuting attorney's office was forced to charge him with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. After a change of venue to McDonald County, Meerwald pleaded guilty March 8, 2005, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Apparently, something about life at the Jefferson City Correctional Center did not sit well with Meerwald. Despite the fact that Meerwald knowingly and willingly entered a guilty plea, less than three months later, on June 6, Meerwald filed a notice of appeal and was given permission to proceed as a pauper, meaning that our tax money was used to hire a public defender to appeal the sentence of a man who made up his own mind not to go to trial.

Anne Wells of Neosho was appointed to represent the case, which has languished in McDonald County Circuit Court for more than two years. Eventually, Ms. Wells filed a motion to withdraw as Meerwald's attorney, and the motion was granted.

Earlier this month, Meerwald asked to have another public defender appointed, and naturally, that motion was approved. Though court records do not indicate to whom the case has been assigned, a notation was made on Monday that the state public defender's office will once again represent Meerwald.

The idea that the accused is entitled to a competent defense is deeply ingrained in our judicial system. We are justifiably proud that we protect the rights of everyone whether or not they have the money to hire a lawyer.

However, the line needs to be drawn when a man has already admitted to the crime and has been sentenced. Why should the family of Jim Dodson and Jessica Mann have to pay one more time?

Star editorial: School start dates should be local decision

In an editorial in today's edition, the Kansas City Star said decisions on school start dates should be left in the hands of local school boards, rather than dictated by the state legislature and the tourism industry:

Last year 90 percent of Missouri districts started school earlier than 10 days before Labor Day.

Clearly, the General Assembly has gone against what most locally elected boards think is best.

The new law says if school boards want to start earlier, they must hold a public hearing and vote to set the date earlier. They have to do this annually.

That creates unnecessary extra work.

Post-Dispatch columnists highlights Missouri's prospective presidential candidates

In his latest effort, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan handicaps Missouri's possible presidential candidates of the future, including both expected candidates for governor in 2008, State Sen. Chris Koster, Sen. Claire McCaskill, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, and U. S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway:

Gov. Matt Blunt would seem a natural to have a shot at something in 2012, but first he has to win re-election. To be charitable, that seems iffy.

Attorney General Jay Nixon ought to beat Gov. Blunt in '08, but then timing comes into play. If a Democrat wins the White House in '08, then Nixon is on the shelf until 2016. If the Dem incumbent has done an awful job and loses in 2012, then Nixon would have to face an incumbent in 2016. If the Dem serves a full eight years, then 2016 would figure to be a Republican year. Long odds either way. Nixon's best chance is for a Republican to win the presidency in '08.

Fired Up falling a little behind

The Fired Up Missouri blog notes today that Sandra Thomas, the Republican candidate in last year's state auditor race, has formed a campaign committee for a second go-round.
Of course, Turner Report readers found out in the June 18 edition.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Parents: Memorial Middle School shooter is just a regular kid

The parents of Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White believe their son should be remanded to the juvenile courts and say that he is just "a regular boy," according to reporter Jeff Lehr's article in the Sunday Joplin Globe.

The article says that the boy's father, Gregory White, began serving his 18-month sentence on a federal weapons charge Wednesday, but he didn't realize he was committing a crime when he had the assault weapon his son used and other weapons at his house:

Greg White said he simply did not understand the law prior to being charged. He said he knew he was not suppose to "possess" weapons, but he thought that meant he was not to be found carrying or purchasing any weapons. The Whites said many of the guns in question were registered in Norma White's name and had been acquired haphazardly as family hand-me-downs.

That must be some family to be handing down assault rifles.

Lehr's article also goes into much of the same territory covered by the postings on the Justice for Juveniles website, including the bullying that Thomas White had to go through at Memorial:

Other kids subjected him to insults, racial slurs and even physical abuse.

His mother's half-Mexican heritage left him a target for those students in whom their families and the school system had failed to instill a sense of racial tolerance and sensitivity. They called him "a beaner." A locker was slammed on his head, his hand stomped on another time, his mother said.

Thomas didn't tell teachers or administrators about these incidents, she said. He's too shy and passive to complain, she said. And he felt it wouldn't have done any good, she said. He told her he had seen a teacher walk away from another student who tried to complain about being picked on.

It would be naive for me to say there are not teachers who ignore signs and complaints of bullying, but those teachers are few and far between and they are not the norm at Memorial Middle School or any other school in the Joplin R-8 School District (or at any of the other schools I covered during my 22 years as a working reporter).

I have noted before that Joplin teachers undergo training to deal with these situations, and what to look for. I can think of numerous incidents that have occurred at South in which administrators, teachers, and counselors have dealt with bullying, most of the time with positive results. Unfortunately, students are smart enough to do most of their bullying, of the mental, physical, and verbal varieties when adults are not in sight.

At South, our seventh grade science teacher Brent Thompson, heads the Peer Mediation program in which student leaders try to help resolve disputes before they escalate into something more serious.

Teachers work with counselors when we notice changes in student behavior to make sure that there is a caring adult to whom the students can talk. The South handbook, which is featured on the school's website, has procedures that can be used for complaints, but we don't sit and wait for a situation to reach that point.

The Juveniles for Justice website called me a liar a few days ago because I said we had policies in place to deal with bullying prior to the Memorial Middle School shooting. As evidence, they cited the "Just Tell It' program the school put into place after the shooting.

As usual, the group, which is also trying to push the fiction that Thomas Gregory White will serve life in prison if he is convicted in adult court, has its information wrong.

We had a policy in place, but any time an incident like this happens, whether it be at Memorial, another school in the Joplin R-8 School District or anywhere else in the U. S. for that matter, school officials re-examine their policies to make sure to see if there is some way in which they can be improved.

They looked at the situation after Memorial and determined the weak link was kids who were not passing along the information they knew. That is why the new program was put into place.

It's not a guarantee that a similar incident will never happen in Joplin again. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees here or anywhere else that our children will be 100 percent safe. But with "Just Tell It" and the recent decision by the Joplin City Council, in conjunction with the school district, to make sure each middle school and the high school has a police officer, should reassure students and parents.

I have sympathy for Thomas White. No one should be bullied; no one should be called racial epithets. And I will agree that his home life did not exactly prepare him to deal with his problems in a mature fashion. Most teens do not have access to assault weapons. That being said, I will reiterate, my sympathy is more with the victims of his actions. And please don't tell me that he didn't shoot anyone so that makes it all right. His gun jammed!

What Thomas White did was to put the people at Memorial (and elsewhere in the R-8 School District) in fear for their safety. A lot of people were harmed emotionally that day, nearly all of them people who never did any harm to Thomas White.

The dual jurisdiction mentioned in the Globe article appears to be the best way to go:

One sentencing option available to the adult court should Thomas be convicted is called dual jurisdiction. A state law enacted in 1995 allows local judges to suspend sentences given to certified juveniles in adult courts and place them in a dual-jurisdiction program the Division of Youth Services operates at Montgomery City.

If they do well at the secure, 40-bed center in Montgomery City and complete the programs in which they are placed, the adult sentences are never imposed. Youths sent there can continue their general education, enter vocational programming and receive group, individual or substance-abuse counseling and medical services.

Brent Buerck, senior program administrator for DYS, said dual-jurisdiction youths sent there have committed crimes ranging from burglary to second-degree murder.

Buerck said state law requires that certified juveniles sent to the program return to court when they are 17. At a hearing, a local judge decides if they should return to Montgomery City to complete programs there, be sent to the adult Department of Corrections or be placed on probation.

If Thomas White is convicted, that would seem to be the logical way to deal with his situation.

Natural Disaster website up and running

It took me long enough but the Natural Disaster website is up and running and a link has been placed on the right hand side of this page.

It is actually one of two sites set up on MySpace for the group. The music site will feature biographical information about the group, four complete songs, news about upcoming performances, and a few photos.

A second site is being set up to complement the first and it will be placed with the links on this page when I have a little more information put on it.

The group has two performances scheduled for next Saturday at the Old Mining Town Days celebration in Granby. We will be playing at the Car Show at the baseball park during the morning (I will have more specific times later in the week), then we will play from 8:30 to 10 p.m. at Dick Smith Park.

Another Justice Department official leaves sinking ship

Acting associate attorney general William Mercer withdrew his appointment to the position Friday, becoming the latest of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' associates to leave the Justice Department as the investigation continues into the firing of nine U. S. attorneys:

Mercer's departure means that nearly all of Gonzales's top aides, including Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, have tendered their resignations within the past four months.

"The attorney general is running out of fall guys," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of Gonzales's congressional critics. "Six resignations into the U.S. attorney firing scandal, the attorney general inexplicably still acts as though he has the confidence and support of the country. He has neither."

Among the attorneys fired was Bud Cummins of Arkansas, who was in the middle of an investigation into the awarding of Missouri license fee offices when he was asked to step down.

Richardson, the stealth campaigner

Journalists too often focus more on how much money political candidates have without noting where that money comes from and how it may relate to decisions made by candidates.

That being said, the amount of money candidates can raise is still of paramount importance in campaigns and is always worth noting.

Today's Washington Post features assessments of presidential candidates' current campaign situations. As expected Republican candidates Rudolph Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and probable candidate Fred Thompson are doing well in the money chase, while John McCain has run into problems, largely based on his stances on Iraq and immigration.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are doing well with their fundraising, while John Edwards has run into some problems. The stealth candidate, according to the Post article, appears to be New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is barely registering in most polls, has told other Democrats that he expects to raise more money than Edwards this quarter.

Obama promises strong lobbying reforms

The pervasive influence of lobbying and special interests on American society is a subject that is addressed almost daily on The Turner Report. It appears that influence is now becoming a 2008 campaign issue.

On Friday, Democratic candidate Barack Obama outlined a reform plan that goes far beyond what I have seen from other candidates:

Obama promised to curb lobbyists' influence from his first day as president. Declaring there is "more cleaning up to do in Washington," he said he would ban political appointees in his administration from lobbying the executive branch after leaving their jobs. And anyone joining his administration would not be allowed to work on issues related to their former employers for at least two years.

"When I am president, I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer or your bank account -- it's about serving your country, and that's what comes first," Obama told supporters at the New Hampshire Community Technical College here.

"A lot of people have told me this is pretty tough, but I refuse to accept the Washington logic that you cannot find thousands of talented, patriotic Americans willing to devote a few years to their country without the promise of a lucrative lobbying job when they're done. I know we can find them," Obama said.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Globe to profile Memorial Middle School shooter's father

In it's Tomorrow's News e-mail, the Joplin Globe said it will feature ace reporter Jeff Lehr's profile of Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White's father, Greg White in its Saturday edition.

The elder White, of course, recently pleaded guilty in federal court to being a felon in illegal possession of firearms, including the assault rifle used by his son Oct. 9 at Memorial.

A challenge to Castle Doctrine supporters: Show me the lawsuits

Ever since Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, filed her Castle Doctrine (Frontier Justice) bill, which will soon be signed into law by Governor Matt Blunt, she and other supporters have claimed that it will keep Missourians who use weapons to defend their lives and their property from having to face lawsuits.

Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, who filed the bill on the Senate side, made the same claim, but told Dave Catanese of KY3 Political Blog that there had been no such lawsuits in southwest Missouri. At each and every such claim, I have challenged the bill's supporters to point out one such lawsuit anywhere in this state. So far no one has done so.

The simple fact is the Castle Doctrine bills are the latest flavor of the month for the National Rifle Association and Marilyn Ruestman, who uses her campaign funds to pay her NRA dues to perfectly willing to go along, even to the extent of claiming that she has had constituents clamoring for this bill. (I would also challenge any constituent who went to Ms. Ruestman before she filed this bill, saying it was necessary to come forward now, if for no other reason than to stop me from saying I don't believe any such constituents exist.)

In the Wednesday Lamar Democrat, Rep. Ed Emery perpetuates this myth about lawsuits:

"Property owners will no longer have to face the agonizing fate of some Missourians who have been subjected to lawsuits for simply defending their property."

I will repeat my challenge. Show me the lawsuits!

O'Sullivan hearing rescheduled for Aug. 2

It's a bit anticlimactic now, but the hearing to see if O'Sullivan Industries will be allowed to completely exit its bankruptcy has been scheduled for 10 a.m. (our time), Aug. 2, in Atlanta, Ga., according to a notice filed Thursday in U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Study: D. C. voucher program has had little effect

Today's Washington Post reports the results of a study indicating that Washington D. C.'s educational voucher program has had little effect on student success.

Naturally, voucher proponents have all kinds of excuses for the survey's results:

But Republicans and other voucher supporters said it is too soon to judge.

"The report's findings are in step with rigorous studies of other voucher programs which have not typically found impacts on student achievement in the first year," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement. "We know that parents are pleased with the success of the program in providing effective education alternatives."

It's hard for the Bush administration to argue with the big money voucher proponents have been pouring into politicians who are willing to cast their votes against public education.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Did I miss the Globe's Nodler story?

Maybe I just missed it, but did the Joplin Globe ever run the story about Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, being named the new chairman of the Senate's Budget Committee?

I have searched for it in the print edition every day since the Globe put a brief version of the story on its website Friday, two days after the story appeared in The Turner Report (the first media outlet to post the information was the Columbia Tribune Political Blog).

I assumed the full story would be posted on the internet and in the print edition the following day, but apparently I was wrong. Buzz Ball and The Carthage Press were all over the story, and a shorter, but still satisfactory version appeared in the Neosho Daily News, but as far as I can tell, it has not been treated as a legitimate news story by the Globe.

Having our state senator in charge of the budget committee, no matter how you feel about his politics or about him for that matter, is a big deal for this area. The Globe's brief post on Friday was a rehash of news releases. This story deserved something more; so did the Joplin Globe's readers.

If I missed it and the Globe did run a more complete story and interview, please let me know. This is one time I would love to have to run an apology.

Sometimes governors say the stupidest things

You read the headline and you probably expected me to be writing something about Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, but this post has nothing to do with him.
In the Wednesday Turner Report, it was noted that Daisy its closing its plant in Neosho and moving its assembly operation to Rogers, Ark.

That was news was greeted thusly by Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, according to an article in the Wednesday Springdale Morning News:

"The fact that the company has decided to return speaks volumes for the community's dedicated hard-working people."

Now is Gov. Beebe saying that Neosho, Missouri does not have hard working people or that Arkansas residents work harder than Missourians. Anyone with common sense knows that Daisy officials moved the assembly lines back to Arkansas for one reason and one reason alone- they can make more money.

Voucher proponent joins State Board of Education

Former State Rep. Derio Gambaro, D-St. Louis, a voucher proponent, was sworn in today as a member of the State Board of Education, according to this photo and brief story on PubDef.

Gambaro's nomination has to be approved by the Senate, but since the Senate is not in session until January, he can serve until that time.

Gambaro, as noted in the June 8 Turner Report, is the second voucher proponent Governor Matt Blunt has appointed to the board, following Debi Demien of Wentzville. (And I am still not convinced that Blunt's other appointment, Stan Archie of Kansas City, is not a voucher proponent.) And of course, we all remember his unsuccessful attempt to nominate voucher supporter Donayle Whitmore-Smith.

Blog: No tourist left behind

Forget it, Tony Messenger!

Sometimes the anonymous bloggers hit it right on the money. For instance, in a post I somehow overlooked Tuesday, the Thinking Things blogger tackled the new law requiring Missouri schools to set their starting dates no later than 10 days before Labor Day:

As long as teachers ensure kids can pass the MAP test the "deciders" in Jefferson City don't seem to worry if students are being "left behind" by a government which values tourist dollars over education.

Learning the importance of work when you are young is great. Bringing money to Missouri businesses is also great. But if we really mean it when we tell kids to stay in school and put their education first, our legislative priorities should reflect that message.

As the kids would say: Duh.

Justice for Juveniles offers its version of Memorial Middle School shooter story

Justice for Juveniles, the national group that is attempting to have Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White's case remanded to juvenile court, has posted what it calls "The History of the Thomas White Case" on its message board. It offers some interesting revelations about the case, all apparently from Thomas White's mother:

Norma White recalled an incident during Thomas' last year in elementary school, however – in the 5th grade – when his teacher was disappointed in Thomas' efforts on a particular assignment, and publicly embarrassed him in front of his classmates.

"He was devastated by it," Norma said. "Everyone laughed at him and began to treat him like an outcast. He was terribly hurt by it, and became even more reserved."

It seems Thomas' originality was also evident by his peers in middle school, at Memorial Middle School in Joplin, where he attended the 6th grade in 2005, and had just begun his 7th-grade year in the fall of 2006.

What may have been construed as "teasing" in elementary school, became "bullying" at his new middle school. Norma recalls countless times throughout Thomas' 6th-grade year that her son came home with complaints of harassment and even injuries he'd sustained in school at the hands of other students.

"He came home once limping; he had been kicked by an older kid in the halls," Norma recalled. "He came home once with a huge welt on his head too from someone slamming his locker door on his head when they passed him in the hall. And his hand was injured once.

"He did suffer from bullying," she said. "He would come home crying, begging us not to send him back to school."

Thomas' parents now look back on their son's complaints and know that they failed him. Norma herself, of mixed-Caucasian and Hispanic descent, said she was the target of bullies throughout her childhood and came to see it as a fact of life to be endured and to be risen above. She spoke to Thomas' teachers about the specific incidents during parent/teacher conferences, but never made a formal complaint with the school.

"I encouraged him to tell his teachers whenever something happened, but Thomas seemed convinced nothing would be done about it. Still, when he begged not to go to school, we tried to explain to him that the law says he has to go."

"I actually said to him, 'You go to school, or you go to jail, Son,'" Thomas' father recalled. "The irony of that – in hindsight – is incredible to me."

Judge David Mouton is scheduled to make a decision early next month on the defense request to have White remanded to juvenile court. If he remains in the adult system, his trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 6, with a backup date of Aug. 20, according to Jasper County Circuit Court records.

Cox officials want documents kept from media

CoxHealth officials, in documents filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, are asking for a protective order to be placed on all documents turned over to Roger Cochran and Dennis Morris during discovery in their wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

"Given significant media attention in the Springfield, Missouri area focused on this
case and the nature and outcome of the Government’s investigation, disclosure of these documents will subject Cox to unduly intrusive attention and repeated inquiries from representatives of the media and will clearly serve to taint the jury pool if disclosed to the media and other third parties. There is no legitimate reason why disclosure of documents produced to Plaintiffs in response to their discovery requests to any third party outside of this litigation is necessary."

Cochran and Morris say they were fired after they uncovered fraud involving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. The lawsuit and the federal grand jury investigation into the alleged fraud were first revealed in the June 8, 2005 Turner Report.

Messenger: Journalists should not contribute to political campaigns

Springfield News-Leader Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger is right on the mark today when he offers the opinion that journalists should not contribute to political candidates:

As to the larger question, I believe that journalists should not give to campaigns. There is too much potential for conflict of interest. I suggested to a fellow journalist today that perhaps the case could be made that a food critic, perhaps, might be able to make such a contribution, to which the journalist pointed out that in today's changing journalism world, who's to say that food critic wouldn't be pulled into political coverage at some later date?

While the story points out giving to both Republicans and Democrats, and points to an egregious Missouri example, it's clear that more journalists give to the left than the right. That's not surprising, as various studies have indicated that more journalists are left-leaning. While that's not proof of bias, it's an example of why it's so easy for the right to play the bias card.

Is it the constitutional right of journalists to contribute to political candidates. Absolutely. But each time journalists do so decreases their credibility with their readers and viewers.

Ozarks Politics chooses Emery as latest "Wingnut on Parade"

The Ozarks Politics blog, in its series of profiles of arch-conservative types that it dubs "Wingnuts on Parade," turns its focus on Ed Emery, R-Lamar, today:

Emery is famous for his claim that the immigration problem in this country is the direct result of legalized abortion. "We hear a lot of arguments today that the reason that we can't get serious about our borders is that we are desperate for all these workers," Emery said. "You don't have to think too long. If you kill 44 million of your potential workers, it's not too surprising we would be desperate for workers." Talk about Freakonomics ran amok.

Bob Evans, founder of restaurant chain, dead at 89

Bob Evans, the founder of the Bob Evans Restaurant chain, died today at age 89. The chain has numerous eateries in Missouri, including one in Joplin:

Evans complained that he could not get good sausage for the restaurant he started after World War II in Gallipolis in southeast Ohio.

Starting with $1,000, a couple of hogs, 40 pounds of black pepper, 50 pounds of sage and other secret ingredients, he opted to make his own, relying on the hog's best parts as opposed to the scraps commonly used in sausage. He began selling it at the restaurant and mom-and-pop stores, and peddled tubs of it out of the back of his pickup truck.

It marked the beginning of what is now a restaurant chain with sales of $1.6 billion in the fiscal year ended April 28 with 590 restaurants in 18 states. The company also operates 108 Mimi's Cafe casual restaurants in 19 states, mostly in the West. Its sausage and other products are sold in grocery stores.

Black defense rests case

Former Hollinger International CEO Conrad Black's defense team rested its case Wednesday:

There's no scheme here," Black's lawyer Edward Genson told the jury as he tried to debunk the government's claim that the fallen media mogul masterminded a plan to loot $60 million from investors in his newspaper empire Hollinger International.

Black, who shifted to a seat more directly facing the largely blue-collar jury this week, turned several times to smile at his wife and three 20-something children who sat in the front row in the public gallery.

Genson told the jury that Black deserved the lavish perks he received from Hollinger International - including a deal on a pricey Park Avenue apartment that is part of one of the charges against him - because the company used him "as a logo" and as "a brand name" to score financing and to build a presence in New York.

Hollinger International's American subsidiary, American Publishing, owned The Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News in the 1990s.

News Leader: Education is more important than tourism

It seems bizarre that someone should have to say this, but in the "Roses and Thorns' column on today's Springfield News-Leader opinion page, the News-Leader Editorial Board put it on the line concerning the new law requiring school districts to start classes no more than 10 days before Labor Day (or go through extra steps in order to do so):

A THORN: To the Missouri General Assembly for requiring school districts to jump through hoops in order to begin the school year more than 10 days before Labor Day. Don't they get it yet? Education is more important than tourism or family vacations.

Apparently, education is not quite as important as campaign contributions from the tourism industry.

Child protection law comes at a cost

It's hard to argue against the idea that all children should receive eye screenings before they attend school, and now thanks to a bill signed into law today by Governor Matt Blunt, that will be the case.

But there were some people who argued against the idea during the past legislative session and they made some compelling points:

The Missouri Association of School Nurses noted that the screenings that are already in place catch nearly all vision problems, while the new required examinations will cost Missourians an estimated $2.4 to $7 million.

The burden of this new bill will be on parents who cannot afford the $100 to $165 cost of a comprehensive examination, which must be done by a licensed optometrist.

While I don't question the sincerity of Sen. Delbert Scott, the sponsor of the bill, it is very easy to question the necessity of the bill, and note one of the reasons why the bill passed the legislature by a wide margin.

Missouri Ethics Commission documents show the Missouri Optometric Association has been extremely generous with its donations to legislators' campaign accounts.

In the April quarterly report, the group's contributions included $4,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, $1,500 to the Senate Majority Fund, $1,000 to the Missouri House Democratic Campaign Committee, $1,500 to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, and $1,275 to Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

The January report included then maximum $1,275 contributions to the senate leadership funds of Republicans Michael Gibbons and Charlie Shields and Democrat Jeff Harris and a $650 maximum contribution to Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield. Ms. Champion was the chairman of the Seniors, Families, and Public Health Committee, which handled Senate Bill 16.

The organization's October 2006 disclosure document indicates $18,290 was spread around to representatives and senators from both parties, with the largest amount, $500 going to Sen. Scott.

On the January 2006 disclosure document, in addition to numerous contributions to individual legislators, the association gave $10,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee and $2,500 to the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

The Nurses Association notes that a better option might have been to either require the vision exams at age four, or better yet, require complete physical examinations that might uncover vision and other problems.

It is hard to argue with the idea of children undergoing examinations that might prevent them from having future problems in school and life, but it appears in this case, a highly organized lobbying group, whose members stand to benefit financially from this legislation, has done its job well.